Maxim Jago, Director, MaximJago.com
David Tillman, Documentary Producer/Editor
Hoyt Richards, Actor/Writer/Filmmaker/Public Speaker, Tortoise Entertainment
James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief, DoddleNEWS
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Larry Jordan: Tonight on the Buzz, we are looking at documentaries. What they are, how they’re produced and how they’re edited. We start with Maxim Jago, award winning filmmaker who shares his thoughts on what makes documentaries different from narrative fiction. His process for producing and scripting a doc, and how he organizes his media after the shoot.
Larry Jordan: David Tillman is a documentary editor with more than 20 network docs to his credit. Tonight David shares his production process and how he edits a doc.
Larry Jordan: Hoyt Richards is deep into his first documentary after creating two award winning feature films. Tonight Hoyt tells us about his latest project, why he created it, and how he intends to release it.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo with this week’s of DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking, Authoritative: One show serves worldwide network of media professionals. Current: Uniting industry experts. Production: Filmmakers. Post-production: And content creators around the planet. Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz; the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. This evening we’re looking at documentaries. Docs are a way many of us first got into the business. They’re easy to start and very difficult to finish. So tonight we thought it would be interesting to chat with people who create docs for a living. We structured the show to first describe what documentaries are. Maxim describes that, plus how they’re different from narrative fiction, how he produces a doc, and what subjects work and which don’t.
Larry Jordan: Then we get deep into the technical side of editing a doc. David explains how he organizes his media, the NLE he uses, how he manages his media well enough to extract a story from all of it, and all of this under very short network deadlines.
Larry Jordan: Finally, we look at the experiences of a narrative filmmaker. Hoyt is creating his first documentary, and translating what he learned about narrative into documentary, along with his plans for promotion and release. I’m looking forward to these conversations.
Larry Jordan: By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletters at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week, provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers. Best of all, it’s free and comes out every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for our DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hello Larry.
Larry Jordan: Always good to hear your voice. You know, today I would like to do two things if it’s OK. One is, I want to get a sense of what’s happening in the industry, our news update, but I also would love your opinion on what happened at CES, does that work for you?
James DeRuvo: Yes, that sounds great. There was not a lot of really great stuff at CES but what I did like I really liked.
Larry Jordan: Let’s talk news first. What’s your lead story?
James DeRuvo: Next month the world is going to descend upon PyeongChang, South Korea for the 23rd Olympic winter games and NBC is going to be broadcasting it for the first time in 4K HDR and virtual reality. They’re going to have 1800 hours of live coverage, this isn’t tape delay, they’re going to be doing it live. They’ll also broadcast about 50 hours of live virtual reality coverage, through their NBC Sports app.
Larry Jordan: Well do you think this is the start of something bigger?
James DeRuvo: Well that’s what I’m thinking, because while NBC’s Quiver channels broadcast their programming in 1080i, the Peacock Network could be using this to cut their teeth on a transition to Ultra High Definition and they would be leading the charge into 4K because many other channels are still stuck in 1080i and 720p. As for virtual reality, you know, I’ve made it no secret that I think that from a cinematic storytelling perspective, virtual reality is basically a non starter. But when it comes to experiencing an event live, VR is the next best thing to being there. So if NBC and the IOC can pull off a live virtual feed that you can watch on your mobile device, sitting on top of your head, I say who wouldn’t want to be a part of that experience Larry?
Larry Jordan: Pretty amazing. NBC and the winter games in just a few weeks. OK, what’s your number two story?
James DeRuvo: This is kind of bad news for content creators on YouTube. YouTube has once again revised their monetization policy and disqualified thousands of content creator accounts. In an effort to get rid of what they call bad actors, the streaming video portal has revised those monetization policies for Google ad sets to make it harder for content creators to make a living creating videos. Users will have to have a minimum of 1,000 followers, and have watched at least 4,000 hours in the last 12 months to be considered for the YouTube partnership program, and that’s a tough row to hoe for most.
Larry Jordan: Well, what is it that really upsets you about this new policy?
James DeRuvo: I understand what they’re trying to do. They want to get rid of all these controversial videos that aren’t advertiser friendly. I get it. But what really stinks about this policy is that the users who are currently qualified under the previous criteria of 10,000 overall views, will now have their ad sets accounts canceled rather than being grandfathered in. Additionally, the average video link of a YouTube video usually runs between three and five minutes. Content creators will have to get 280,000 views or 28 times normal, in 12 months, before YouTube will even consider them for the YouTube partnership program. While it’s true that 99 percent of YouTube’s creators make less than $100 a year, this is going to be a huge blow to those seeking to carve out a career as a content creator on the portal. At the very least, they’ve made it incredibly hard.
Larry Jordan: That’s YouTube. What’s our third story this week?
James DeRuvo: Kodak at CES announced a Super 8 film camera. It’s the first film camera that they’ve made since 1982 and it’s a part of what Kodak’s calling the analog renaissance. The Super 8 film camera has a pull out digital LCD screen, and can record audio digitally on a separate wave file, and then users will take the exposed Super 8 millimeter cartridge along with that Super 8 millimeter wave file that they’ll just upload, and then they’ll send it to Kodak for processing and receive a digital download as well as the developed film back.
Larry Jordan: That sounds like a great idea. What’s the problem?
James DeRuvo: The problem is the price. The Super 8 camera itself will cost between $2500 and $3,000. I could buy a Panasonic GH5 for that. You can still buy the Canon Super 8 cameras on eBay and elsewhere for less than $300. Then there’s the processing. It’s a great idea to offer Telecine services built in as part of their new dark room service, but the cost of processing a three minute film cartridge will be somewhere between $50 and $75. So I really don’t think Kodak will be able to wake anyone up to this new renaissance other than those experimental filmmakers with money to burn.
Larry Jordan: That’s Kodak. What else are you watching this week?
James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following this week include a filmmaker believes that TV networks are ruining movies that they broadcast by still relying on pan and scan techniques. You can turn a set of friction arms into a magical multi-purpose camera rig, and GoPro may be up for sale.
Larry Jordan: Very interesting. That news is available on doddlenews.com, but James, before I let you go, let’s shift gears. You know CES just wrapped up. What are your thoughts on CES?
James DeRuvo: Well now that the lights are officially off at CES, I thought we’d review Doddle’s best of CES awards for 2018 especially with the best camera that we saw, the best audio product we saw, and the best editing product that we saw, and that one is going to surprise you.
Larry Jordan: Alrighty, well let’s tackle best camera first.
James DeRuvo: Well the best camera is pretty much a given. While there are other offerings out there, the Panasonic GH5S gave the larger splash. Aimed squarely at film and video production, the latest generation of Lumix micro four thirds mirrorless cameras was more of a major dot update than an upgrade. Panasonic basically replaced the 20 megapixel micro four thirds sensor with one half its size, but it’s a multi aspect design that offers larger pixels. Larger pixels means double the light gathering capability, and an ISO of 51,200 and it also records hybrid log gamma in ten bit 4.22 4K internally. Sadly though, they had to leave behind its popular in camera image stabilization feature, but it’s a fabulous camera. I’ve seen some of the footage and it’s just beautiful. So that was my best camera.
Larry Jordan: That’s the Panasonic GH5S for best camera. What’s best audio product?
James DeRuvo: You remember that Zoom H1, digital audio recorder? That was my very first digital audio recorder that I recorded with my camera, and I’m still using it to record backup audio tracks on my video shoots and for interviews. But you know, it’s pretty long in the tooth, and it needed an update, and Zoom has given us an updated Zoom H1N. The basic cuts of the H1N are similar to its predecessor but it has improved 24-bit recording, and up to 96 kilohertz in wave with adjustable playback speeds, and audio slate for syncing to your video in post. And it can even over dub with an unlimited number of layers. It’s a fantastic improvement over an already solid digital recorder, and that was my favorite audio product of CES.
Larry Jordan: That’s the Zoom H1N, which brings us to your choice for best editing product.
James DeRuvo: Best editing product. Now this one’s kind of outside the box but go with me on this. There were plenty of laptops on the showroom floor this year, and frankly with all the talk about the Spectre security flaw affecting computers in the last ten years, I think it’s going to pay to wait to upgrade your hardware until Intel and AMD and others plug that gaping hole in their processor architecture. But even then, there really just isn’t that much of a performance boost to laptops and computers to make you think, “I got to get this.”
James DeRuvo: So that left me to think about accessories, and Asus has a new product that they’ve released through their gaming unit, called the Republic of Gaming. It’s called the Bezel-free Kit, and what this is, is if you have three computer monitors, it separates all three of them together, and makes one seamless wide aspect angle monitor out of it. The separators fit in between the two monitors and cover up the bezel and they have these mirrors embedded into them so it causes the video from one display to merge into the video of the next display and the next display so it looks like one continuous display all the way across from left to right. It’s not perfect, you can still see the bezel a little bit as it’s opaque and it shines through. But it’s an interesting technique that uses optical refraction to merge those ends and hide the bezels that separate them. For all its simplicity, I couldn’t help but give it the best editing product, but I also gave it the best in show accolade Larry. It’s really clever.
James DeRuvo: Right now it’s only designed to work with Asus Republic of Gaming monitors, but they have said that as time goes on, they’re going to open up the design to other monitors so that anybody could use these things, and it’s probably only going to cost a couple of hundred bucks. It’s going to be a great little feature, and I think as we get more into virtual reality editing, where you need to line up seams of cameras and everything, that continuous real estate is really going to come in handy.
Larry Jordan: OK, that’s the Asus bezel free kit. Have you seen anything else that caught your eye, even if it didn’t make the best category?
James DeRuvo: Well other great technology we saw included the pair of gimbals that we saw from DJI, the awesome 02 smartphone gimbal that will cost $129 that I’m going to buy the second it comes out. They also have the Ronin S for DSLRs. It’s a single handheld gimbal for DSLRs and micro four thirds cameras. There was also Yuneec’s heavy lifting 4K hexacopter, a six bladed quadcopter that can shoot video 360 degrees in the round.
James DeRuvo: It wouldn’t be CES without Razer’s crazy design technology and they had what was called Project Linda, a laptop that was powered by a smartphone. You slip the smartphone into the laptop and it runs on Android. You’ll probably never see it in the stores, but it wouldn’t be CES unless Razer put out something crazy.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to keep track of what was happening at CES, as well as throughout our industry, where do they go on the web?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com Larry.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor in Chief of Doddlenews.com and James, as always, thanks for joining us this week.
James DeRuvo: See you next week.
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Larry Jordan: Maxim Jago is a film director, screen writer and author who splits his time between filmmaking, and speaking as a futurist, especially at events celebrating creativity. Hello Maxim, welcome.
Maxim Jago: Hello there Larry, it’s very nice to be speaking with you again.
Larry Jordan: It is always fun to have you on the show, and today we’re talking about documentaries. How would you define a documentary?
Maxim Jago: Wow, well you know when I was studying at film school, they described it as actuality media, actuality content. Anything that is intending to convey real events. But that of course could be a dramatization or even just an educational piece of media, not just live events unfolding as they happen.
Larry Jordan: Well how would you differentiate, if at all, between say a documentary and a reality program?
Maxim Jago: I don’t know that I would. I think that I would classify a reality program in the same category as a documentary, it’s just a different type of content. I suppose that you could have talk shows, you could have presenters, you could have thought pieces, and a classic documentary is more a specific idea that you want to inform an audience about or an understanding you want to give an audience, either about a specific event or just a specific concept.
Larry Jordan: OK well let’s look at one more differentiator. How would you differentiate a documentary from say narrative fiction?
Maxim Jago: Fiction in theory isn’t real. That’s why you get, even when they say that a film is based on real events, they’ll have a little disclaimer at the end saying the characters are fictional and not based on anybody, and it’s something that is there to just convey ideas and not intended to convey something that has really occurred in the world. And it’s very interesting that as a species we have a fantastic capacity to distinguish between fantasy and reality. There have been lots of studies into the impact of fantasy violence on peoples behavior, and it turns out that if we know that what we’re witnessing is fantasy, then it does not impact our behavior very much. If you have violent tendencies, you might be inspired by what you’ve seen, but you won’t become more violent. But if we do believe what we’re witnessing is real, it does have an impact on human behavior. It’s interesting that we’re kind of hard wired to recognize the difference, but that recognition can be manipulated.
Larry Jordan: Well let’s put a more personal hat on this. Tell us about one of the documentaries that you yourself have done.
Maxim Jago: I’m actually working on two documentary projects right now. Historically, I made a documentary about an abstract theater director called Richard Forman, who is actually based in New York, and he’s a fascinating character because he intentionally tries to create unease for his audience. So the challenge for us in producing the documentary, we documented one of his projects, was capturing that feeling of unease for the viewer so they could understand what he was doing. It was fascinating because at the beginning of the process we had this local troupe that was working with him, had a lovely interview with one of the guys there, saying “I know that this is fake, it’s too bizarre, I know you’re just doing this for a comedy film, and you’re trying to make us look stupid, and I just want it on camera today that I know this is fake.” And then a week later into the process, the same guy was saying, “I get it, this guy’s a genius, he’s really changing my perception of theater.”
Maxim Jago: The beauty of a fiction film is that if you have a lead character that the audience empathizes with, they literally go on that emotional journey with the lead character. The beauty of documentary content is that you really have the opportunity to educate the audience because of that reality tone. You teach them about real life, not just emotions and concepts.
Larry Jordan: I think that gets to a core question. What elements make for a successful documentary?
Maxim Jago: You know, the BBC charter, they have it in a very specific order to inform, educate and entertain. I’ve always felt that that was a good guide for documentary content. It’s true that attention spans are shrinking, and if you look at some of the really short form content that people are putting online now, it’s 90 seconds, or under two minutes, and the recommendation for social media is that it’s under three minutes. But many people might be surprised how much information and understanding you can put into 90 seconds. I think the rules still apply. A good documentary will empower the audience. Certainly, I’ve found from speaking on stage to audiences, it’s not about impressing people, it’s not about wowing them. It’s about giving them more energy, more understanding, more power than they had before they watched your documentary. They should enjoy the journey, they should enjoy the experience, you want the cinematography to be good, the soundtrack to be high quality. But a really great documentary will not just give you a crazy experience, it will change you. It will change your perspective, it will educate you, and it will deepen your understanding of something in a way that empowers you as a person, allows you to be more than you were before you watched it.
Larry Jordan: When you’re putting a documentary together and you’re writing the script, how does a documentary script vary from say narrative fiction?
Maxim Jago: It’s a fantastic joke really I think in the industry that when you’re making a documentary where you’re supposed to be capturing something that is, something that already exists, you still have to go into it with a script. It really is important that you do that, even if you’re going to work with a family who’s dealing with a particularly traumatic time, and you don’t know the details yet. You’re going to go there, record the interviews, capture the location, and discover the story. You really still need to go there with a story in mind because otherwise you’ve just got nothing to guide the way that you’re going to approach the story.
Maxim Jago: Of course, what’s critical is that when you get there, you’ve got ideas about how you’re going to use the cameras, and what you’re going to do with the sound and who you want to get interviews with, and all that is thrown out of the window as soon as you arrive and you discover another story, a different one than the one you were expecting. It is really important that you go there with an expectation because otherwise, what kit are you going to hire? What lights do you need? Who are you going to have interviewing? You’ve got to have something in mind. You have to have a plan so that you can then break it. But of course, the key is to be fluid and very often when working on documentary content, you’ll get there thinking that you’re covering one angle, and there’s one story that’s important, and it’ll turn out to be a completely different story and you have to be very fluid about that.
Maxim Jago: The one danger I think though is, because cameras are so much cheaper now, storage is so much cheaper, there’s this tendency to do what they call spray and pray where you just turn the camera on constantly and don’t turn it off, in the hope that maybe you’ll capture something useful. That’s a way to an early grave for your editing team. And of course you don’t get any more time to edit it. A friend of mine, Christine Steele, she’s a fantastic editor, was saying that in her experience for a high end project, for every one hour of additional source material, for a fiction piece, you’re probably looking realistically in total at about three days of additional work from beginning to end of post production. So for documentary though, there is no way you could go through that amount of material.
Maxim Jago: I really think it’s critical if you’re producing a documentary, particularly if you’re going to be fluid in this way, that you have a team that know how to get a good shot. It’s critical that you have a great location sound recordist, and also that you have an interviewer that can put people at ease quickly, so that they feel comfortable sharing their stories, and lots of camera logs, because you’re going to get back to base and the more you can pre-structure the story for your editor to discover, the more easily they can navigate your content. Very often the story will change in the cutting room but you have to be open to that, after having one in mind to begin with. It makes no sense, but otherwise you’ve just lost.
Larry Jordan: To avoid getting lost, once you’re back at base, how do you organize your media so you can keep track of and find the stuff you need?
Maxim Jago: I think for a documentary content, it’s especially important that you have a good assistant editing team. That you have a system in place to manage your content. Metadata’s critical. If you can use an on location system to acquire metadata, that you can assign to your media in post, that’s great. Lots of notes from the location. But ultimately, what’s going to happen is the same for documentary content as it is for any other kind of content. You’re going to watch what you’ve shot. They say 90 percent of video editing is looking at video clips and making creative choices about them. A lot of that creative process in documentary material, is organization. I would say more than with fiction film, because with fiction, everything’s sort of pre-structured anyway, you know the scenes, you know the media that’s intended to serve particular scenes, and once you’ve got the rough structure of the film, you can start playing with it as you wish. But with documentary content, how do you get that through line without a deep familiarity with your material?
Maxim Jago: I’m a great believer in having additional bins in your editing system that you just put cool stuff in that you don’t know what to do with yet. And as you’re going through the process of organizing your media, an organizational system’s going to emerge so there’ll be one character that comes up a lot and you’ll just start making bins to do with that character. The more content you have, the more you fragment that organizational system to make it easier to locate specific content. But in amongst all of that, you’re going to come across just a really cool shot of somebody’s foot walking through a puddle, or a sunset, or a rainbow, or a bird on a wall, that’s just going to be a really good shot, B roll stuff that the camera team got that you don’t know what to do with, and you don’t have a use for yet but you could just put it in a specials bin to use later.
Maxim Jago: I think, very often, you just have to begin at the beginning. Throw some shots onto the timeline and start feeling the story emerging as you go through your content. In that sense I think that media management with a documentary is closer to that idea of creating a statue from a big piece of stone. The sculptor will chip away at the stone and allow the sculpture to emerge. I think there’s a lot more of that creative process with a documentary than there is with fiction for obvious reasons.
Larry Jordan: Documentaries often take years to produce. How do you stay focused and even more importantly, funded?
Maxim Jago: Lots of naps and a day job. It can be extremely difficult, and there’s this mythology that out there somewhere there are kind, angelic, wealthy investors that just love the understanding being shared with the world. You know, it’s like a patron for an artist who will just support them. I haven’t met one yet, but I believe that they exist, just as I believe unicorn tears must exist somewhere. But I think you have to keep going, you’ve got to believe in the subject, you’re really got to have a passion for it and you’ve got to love it. I think film production in general, unless you’re born into a family of filmmakers and you’ve got access to the industry, in any way that you want to work into the industry, you really have to love it. You have to have that feeling when you’re on set that it’s such a privilege to be there, that you keep thinking that someone’s going to notice that you’re doing it and stop you. That you shouldn’t be having that much fun earning money. And if you feel that way about filmmaking, particularly if you feel that way about documentary, you will stay driven. In particular, when you’re working on one documentary project, I think that you can tell if it’s worthwhile because when you tell people about it, their eyes light up.
Maxim Jago: I’m working on a documentary now led by a Park Avenue psychiatrist, Anna Yusim, who’s exploring the ways that peoples’ minds are connected via Non-Newtonian physics, telepathy, not just non-verbal signals, but also a kind of spiritual journey to people’s psychological wellness. And along the way we’ve interviewed NASA scientists and all sorts, and we’re finding a lot of evidence that people are more connected over a distance than we thought. This is a fascinating subject, and interestingly, the big challenge we found with the documentary was trying to find a skeptic. We just couldn’t find a single person that would say they have not had an experience of connection over a distance with people.
Maxim Jago: The other project I’m working on that’s really interesting is the hunt for the lost clipper. We’re actually going to Micronesia in a couple of weeks to search for the bones of soldiers that were shot down before the Second World War and we’re actually looking to re-write history and re-write the way that America became involved in the Second World War. The guy that’s leading that, Guy Noffsinger, has had a passion for this for years and his passion is so infectious you can’t help but be carried along by it. It’s a good opportunity to go on an expedition as well.
Larry Jordan: Maxim, for people that are interested, where can they go on the web to learn more about you and your work?
Maxim Jago: I believe I’m a Google whack. If you Google Maxim Jago, you will find me. My website’s maximjago.com, I’m on Twitter, Tumblr, everywhere.
Larry Jordan: Well just to keep it simple, the website is maximjago.com and Maxim, as always, it’s been a delight. Thank you for joining us.
Maxim Jago: Thank you so much Larry, have a great afternoon.
Larry Jordan: David Tillman is a documentary editor whose credits include more than 20 major TV documentaries for networks such as MSNBC, National Geographic Smithsonian and PPS. Hello David, welcome back.
David Tillman: It’s great to be here Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: David, editing a doc requires a huge investment of time. How do you decide which projects to accept?
David Tillman: That’s a great question. I mean, I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of projects come my way, especially in the history realm. History subjects tend to fascinate me because usually I don’t know much about the subject going in. I love it because I get to dive in for a few months, become a mini expert in the topic, and then move onto the next project. So as long as I feel like there’s an important story to tell, a way to tell a story differently, that maybe I can lend my skills to, I feel like it’s always pretty much any story can be a good challenge. I don’t usually turn down much if something comes my way and it interests me.
Larry Jordan: Why is it necessary for you to become an expert in order to edit a piece?
David Tillman: I think if you want the final product to reflect a level of expertise or encompass everything that’s important about a topic, then the first thing you have to do is educate yourself in that topic. You know, you want to be informed and you want to make sure that as you edit the piece, the decisions you’re making are coming from a place that’s well thought out and educated.
Larry Jordan: Who’s responsible for developing the story, based on the footage you have available? Is it the producer, the director, or you?
David Tillman: We’ve been working on a number of projects at 1895 films, the company I work with, and those projects vary with the series ‘The Lost Tapes’ that we’re working on right now for Smithsonian Channel. It’s a big team effort so we do have story producers that are kind of helping to pass down the story and make outlines, and figure out the key story points. But then I think at a certain point it’s up to the editor to assess what material they actually have to tell those story points, and to some degree I think the material you have can help in a way dictate the story because I always feel it’s best to play to your strengths. If you have great material for a certain scene or a certain story point in your documentary, it makes sense to weight the film a little more toward that scene and use your best material. So I think it varies from project to project. Sometimes I take on a big role in sifting through everything and coming up with a story structure. Other times there’s a story producer that’s helping do that initial story pass, and then it’s up to me or other editors to take it from there.
Larry Jordan: Got a few technical questions, so put your technical hat on for a minute.
David Tillman: Hold on a second, that’s over here. OK. It’s on, I’m ready.
Larry Jordan: How do you organize yourself and your media when you start a project, because documentaries just have vast amounts of stuff?
David Tillman: That’s a great question. I’ve been using Final Cut Pro X for the last two and a half years which I think has a number of organizational tools that can really help, especially in documentary and cross reference over a number of different categories, but we do a lot of archival documentaries, so there are a few very key pieces of information. One is the source of the archival material, so we might have stuff from networks like NBC archives, places like Critical Past or National archives. So it’s always very important to categorize using that source which we usually do within the file name itself. Another very key piece of information for us is the date at which something took place because to a large degree, we’re assembling things chronologically, so everything comes in out of order, but as best we can we try to organize it so it’s easy to put it back into chronological order.
David Tillman: Besides that, I do find it helpful to split up things by story beats. Like I mentioned earlier, if we have an outline for a particular documentary, we might then organize it by act, depending on the act structure of the show. So if it’s a five act structure, we might have four story beats in act one, and we would then go and start labeling footage with a key word for story beat 1A, 1B, 1C and that gives us a very clean way of grouping together different pieces of material to help tell specific story beats.
Larry Jordan: Are you organizing media based on folders in the finder? Or are you organizing it based on bins or are you organizing it based upon key words? In other words, is the NLE doing the work or are you grouping stuff before it even gets into the NLE?
David Tillman: Our process is ongoing because we start editing and then we’re also constantly getting new media as we’re editing. So the best way we figure how to deal with that is, we kind of have an initial folder structure before the edit starts where everything’s organized by the source and maybe within a footage folder, sometimes sources have both footage and a still photo or both audio and video. So, we might split it up by stills, footage, audio, and then within that, each source. But once the edit starts what we’ve found easiest is to then just create a folder with the date that the new media is being ingested, and then within that we have folders for each source.
David Tillman: It becomes a lot easier once the edit begins, when you’re importing new media to have a date to reference on when that new media was ingested or was brought into the master folder structure. We’re using Final Cut Pro X so what we’ve found is a good workflow for us is we will have a story producer or assistant editor take that new footage with that new date, and then they do any logging, key wording etcetera they need to do that particular footage. Then we have the media on a server and the editor is able to download the media, the story producer will export an XML file of the event with that date, and then the editor can just import that XML. It brings an event into their library, and then they can just relink to the media they’ve downloaded from the server. So it might sound like a lot of steps, but it’s actually pretty simple and enables multiple people to be collaborating. It enables us to seamlessly bring new media into the edit.
Larry Jordan: Do you use any media asset management software?
David Tillman: No, I know about KeyFlow Pro which I’ve heard is great, but we basically add all the metadata in Final Cut Pro.
Larry Jordan: You’ve done a lot of editing. What’s the difference between editing say a narrative fiction and a documentary?
David Tillman: That’s a great question. One of the things I love about documentary editing is I feel like there actually is a lot of freedom, a lot of room for creativity. Some of my favorite documentary filmmakers like Errol Morris and Brett Morgen have found really unique ways to provide visuals for the story that’s being told. One of the things about most narrative films is essentially there’s a script. Everyone goes to set and they shoot the script, line for line and then in a way the assistant editors and the editors editing that film are just piecing together the scenes based on how it was shot. Obviously there is room for creativity, there is room for the editor to make their mark, but to me it’s a lot more structured and I think documentaries in a lot of ways, can take on more forms. They can be more experimental, they can tell the story without narration or interviews the way a lot of our documentaries do. So I think in a way they’re both like putting together a puzzle but with documentary filmmaking, that puzzle is much less defined, there’s a lot more decisions to make in a way about what pieces of media to use and it’s a free flowing process that I really enjoy.
Larry Jordan: When you’re setting up a project, again we’re shifting back to technical, are you guided by the format you’ve shot, or the format you need to deliver? In other words, when your project settings are being set up, what determines what you’re going to edit?
David Tillman: For most of the archival documentary projects we work on, we always have to worry about the deliverables for the television network that we’re delivering to. Most of the time that’s fairly flexible. Obviously it has to probably be in HD or 4K delivery, but beyond that the frame rate often times you can choose. So an important step is to figure out at a certain point what the majority of the footage is, what frame rate it is, and then to assign your project frame rate to match with the majority of the footages. Sometimes it’s hard to know what that’s going to be early on in the process, but that’s one decision that we make based on the media that we have.
Larry Jordan: What’s a typical editorial team for a documentary?
David Tillman: Most of the documentaries I’ve worked on, I’ve had an associate producer, or story producer, and an assistant editor. Then I work with a director and typically if we shoot interviews, then a DP will be hired for the shooting days that are necessary to shoot everything needed for that particular documentary. Then usually, once we lock picture, we send the audio out to a sound mixer and we send the picture out to a colorist, an online editor. So again depending on the scale of the project and the research that’s necessary and the budget, you could have more than one assistant editor, more than one associate producer and maybe you would need a post production coordinator to also help. In my experience, that’s been the typical roles necessary.
Larry Jordan: I know that every project is different, but how much time does it take to complete a doc?
David Tillman: A lot of the documentaries I’ve worked on, we’ve been on a schedule with a delivery date. Typically, those from the pre-production, research stage all the way through to delivering the show, I’d say usually range from four to six months, although I worked on a documentary for National Geographic channel called ‘Diana: In Her Own Words’ last year, that’s out on Netflix right now. Luckily we had a lot more time. We were working with a subject in Princess Diana that there’s a ton of archival media to research and find, and we were really trying to find rare and unseen images of her, so luckily we had a much longer schedule for that documentary. I think from beginning to end it was closer to a year. So the editing stage of that was still only about I think around 20 weeks or at least the offline edit schedule was about 20 weeks.
Larry Jordan: David, for people that want to hire you for their next gig, where can they go on the web to learn more about you?
David Tillman: The best place to connect with me is probably on Twitter, I’m @davidtillman, and my website is davidjtillman.com.
Larry Jordan: David Tillman is a documentary editor with credits just about everywhere, and David thanks for joining us today.
David Tillman: Great to be here, thanks.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. Doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: After a highly successful modeling career, Hoyt Richards became an award winning actor, writer and filmmaker whose last two indie features, Dumbbells and Intersection have won over 175 awards in the film festival circuit. Hoyt also coaches actors and writers in between projects, and is working on his own documentary. Hello Hoyt, welcome back.
Hoyt Richards: Thanks Larry, great to be here.
Larry Jordan: Tell us what you’re working on at the moment.
Hoyt Richards: It’s a personal project, I’ve actually never done a documentary before, but I’ve always loved documentaries. This is my personal story. I’d been involved with a religious cult for 15 years and for 12 of those years I didn’t see my parents, and most of my family. That all fractured and came apart, and then basically around 2000, I finally escaped the group and so now that I’ve had enough time between that event and life happening and the recovery process, I decided I’ve got enough perspective to tell that story. So the documentary’s covering that journey of mine.
Larry Jordan: Why turn it into a documentary? Why not make a narrative based on true story thing?
Hoyt Richards: You know what, that’s a great question. A lot of people have asked me that because when I’ve had this conversation with people telling them my story, they’ve said, “My God, it sounds like a movie. You’ve got to make the movie.” It’s very challenging when you’re talking about a 15, or almost 20 year period of my life when you track it all the way through, to try to tell that in a 90 minute narrative. Whereas I found the documentary has been much more of, for lack of a better description, kind of a love letter to my family and friends for sticking by me in an incredibly struggling and tough time of my life. So it just worked to be a better way to tell the story at this stage, and maybe down the road I will tell a narrative version but this felt like the right step to do right now.
Larry Jordan: How difficult was the decision to actually turn this into a film?
Hoyt Richards: It wasn’t a difficult decision in the sense that on some level I felt like this is a pet project, and something I almost had a duty to tell. I think anytime you’ve gone through any sort of survival type story there’s almost an obligation to share your story, because I certainly know in my life, when I’ve had those days where you think “Oh I’m having such a bad day, and things are rough.” Then you hear what someone else has gone through in their lives, and it puts things in perspective. So I feel like these type of survivor type stories are so useful to all of us to hear at different times in our lives. What’s the point of going through something like that if you’re going to keep it to yourself? I think you really need to share it.
Larry Jordan: Shifting gears into the actual creation of the documentary, how do you keep control of the story thread when you’ve got so much, you’ve got 20 years of life to live, and media and all these different elements? How do you decide what to focus on?
Hoyt Richards: It’s a challenge for sure. It’s not like a narrative where you really have a blueprint going in, like this is the script and this is what we’re going for. Obviously when you shoot a narrative you end up with a version of what you wrote, and then obviously the final rewrite is the edit. With a documentary it’s kind of a little bit in reverse from the point of view that you have an idea of the material you want to cover, but the story takes on evolution as you start gathering the material.
Hoyt Richards: What I mean by that is, obviously I had a lot of different things that I knew I wanted to include in the film, like I had old footage of the cult leader when he had his own TV show, so I had like 60 hours of that footage. I had all my dad’s home movies, that he had accumulated over 50 plus years to use as resource material. Family photos, my own personal photos and then obviously all these interviews with my family and friends and other key players in the story. You’re trying to accumulate as much as you can, and then have some sort of process where the story starts talking back to you what it wants to be, because initially I would say my objective had been, I just want to be as transparent and as authentic to this experience I had, to really represent how does someone get involved with something like this? And how do they not only get out of it, but how do they put their life back together after something like this?
Hoyt Richards: But in many ways the story’s now become like I said earlier, this love letter to my family and friends for sticking by me during this time that I really didn’t know what was going on at all, and the fact that they’d been able to be the safety net that I’ve fallen into after I’ve come back, has just been something beyond what I ever could have imagined would have happened.
Larry Jordan: The first two films you created were narrative. Now you’re working on a documentary. How does the process of putting a documentary together differ from putting a narrative fiction piece together?
Hoyt Richards: With the narrative you’ve got usually a set shooting schedule. You’ve got a limited amount of time and a limited amount of money to spend per so, so it’s a very tight ship I would say. Where with the documentary, because I didn’t have any formal game plan of how long it would take, or how much money I could or would spend, it’s been more or less a piecemeal approach of I know I want this interview, I know I want to talk to this person, I know I want to go there and get this kind of footage. Just as you’re accumulating it, figure out what’s the next step I’d like to do. Figure out if I had the finances to pull it off, and just let it evolve on its own pace.
Hoyt Richards: I’ve heard of documentaries lasting sometimes seven, eight years, and I’ve never understand that until I started going down this road. I’m like, now I get it now, because it just kind of takes on its own life.
Larry Jordan: You mentioned the finances. Is there any money in documentaries? I know this is a labor of love for you, but other people need to pay the rent.
Hoyt Richards: You’re right, and there is money, just not a lot of money. I think you’ve got obviously a pie in the sky type of opportunities, like HBO I think releases a documentary every week. So they’ve got approximately 50 slots that you’d like to pop into, and I think they’ll pay you a decent amount of money. I think it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe on the lower scale. But you’re not going to have the same expenses in a narrative. You’re not paying movie stars, you don’t need a large crew. A lot of times, the crew that I’ve been operating with has been myself, maybe another producer, the sound and camera guy and that is it.
Larry Jordan: Are you still in production? Or are you heading into post?
Hoyt Richards: In post right now. I’m editing right now. The tricky part is, as you’re editing, you sometimes think, “Oh I need another piece.” So we’ll see how it turns out. Right now I’m hoping I’ve completed all the footage I need, but there’s always the opportunity that somebody you tried to reach out to wasn’t able to, and now they are available, or whatever. Things can happen. So I’m letting it take on its own pacing, and we’ll see where I end up.
Larry Jordan: I don’t know of any film that’s ever complete.
Hoyt Richards: That’s right. They say you’re never finished, just at some point you do have to abandon the project and stop. That’s true, that’s exactly right.
Larry Jordan: What are your release plans?
Hoyt Richards: Well I’ve learned in the past from doing the film festivals, that they’re very helpful and really useful, but I also have learned you don’t do yourself a service if you try to set an artificial deadline based on a film festival that doesn’t work on a timeline that’s best for the project. So it’s great to have deadlines to push you to move faster, but then you don’t want to move so fast that you actually hamper or somehow impede the project coming together to its ultimate benefit, you know what I mean?
Larry Jordan: So does that mean you’re not going to take this to film festivals, or are you going to get this to theaters or release online, or what are your thoughts at the moment?
Hoyt Richards: I definitely want to take it to film festivals. My dream would be one of the big ones, like a Venice or Toronto or Tribeca, those type of places. So it just really depends when I have a version of the film that I feel really strong about, then I’ll definitely start presenting it to those type of venues. I haven’t really been able to submit to those type of venues in the past, because as an independent filmmaker if you don’t have movie stars, you’re really not going to get a lot of attention from those larger festivals. It’s not that they don’t want to give the little guy a chance, it’s just the economics of the way film festivals work that when you’re pulling in 100,000 people like Sundance does, unfortunately you need star power to drive that crowd of that size. You can’t expect these little films from first time filmmakers or unknown cast to really be able to measure up against these so called indie films with movie stars, just not made by studios. So the documentary is the only format where there’s no longer a need for the movie star, so if you’ve got a great documentary film you’ve got a shot at one of these bigger festivals.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to keep an eye on what you’re doing, and the status of y our film, where can they go on the web?
Hoyt Richards: Well you can always follow me on my Twitter @hoytrichards. I’ve got an Instagram @hoytrich. I’m just building my website, hoytrichards.com. So those are the best ones. There will be a website for the documentary. My tentative title for it right now which I don’t know if it will stay that way, is Blind Spot in the Mirror: the Hoyt Richards story.
Larry Jordan: And Hoyt Richards himself is the voice you’re listening to. He’s an award winning actor, writer and filmmaker, and Hoyt, as always, thanks for joining us and I wish you great success.
Hoyt Richards: Thanks Larry. I love what you’re doing, and you give a voice to us artists out there fighting the good fight, so I appreciate it so much.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking. Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with Sam Bogach, the CEO of Axle Video. They make a media asset management system that’s geared for the small work group. There’s three asset management systems that are designed and priced for smaller video teams, Kyno from Lesspain, KeyFlow Pro from Malgn, and Axle from Axle Video. All three of these can simplify the challenges of managing the massive amounts of media generated by even a small video project.
Larry Jordan: But as you heard David explain earlier in the show, he doesn’t use a separate media management system. He tracks all of his clips using Final Cut Pro X. Now granted, the key word function in Final Cut is powerful and easy to use, but a dedicated MAM system can do so much more. Still, many editors are reluctant to use them, or once they’re installed, they don’t continue to use them. It was this conundrum that Sam and I were discussing yesterday. I realized a few years ago that using a media asset management system requires a different way of thinking when compared to video editing. For this reason, many editors have a hard time wrapping their brains around a MAM. The hardest part of any media asset management system is getting started. Deciding how to organize your clips, what metadata to track, who’s responsible for logging and maintaining the system, then actually cataloging all the clips, is just a massive amount of up front work. It’s hard, boring, tedious, yet painstaking and essential work.
Larry Jordan: Once all your media is in, and you’re able to search for what you need, a media asset system is close to magical. You discover clips that you never knew you had, but getting to that point is really hard, especially if what you really want to do is just edit.
Larry Jordan: New technology that Axle is adding to their system, allows machine learning to do the original logging of a clip. But the problem is, AI generates massive amounts of metadata, only 20 percent of which is relevant to an editor. So while the initial logging can be automated, all this new metadata needs to be reviewed by an assistant editor, for both accuracy and relevance. Automation is, in general, a good thing, but I’m even more reassured that the roles of the assistant editor or the associate producer, are not going away any time soon. Employment is always a good thing.
Larry Jordan: As Sam and I continued to talk, I realized that what we need for media asset management systems to take off, especially in the small work group, is for us to create a partnership between someone with organizational and library skills, to get the system set up and handle the initial ingest, combined with someone with editorial skills to be sure that the system is adding and tracking the data that will be useful for the edit.
Larry Jordan: Large corporations can afford these cross functional teams. Now, as video assets multiply like Topsy, we need to find a way to create these teams affordably for smaller work groups especially for the short term ad hoc projects that are typical for most films. When we do, the true value of a current indexed and extensive media asset management system will instantly become visible to the rest of us.
Larry Jordan: Just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guess for this week, filmmaker Maxim Jago, editor David Tillman, filmmaker Hoyt Richards, and James DeRuvo of DoddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday.
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Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price. My name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2018 by Thalo LLC.
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